Alaska's Heat Wave Ignites Fires as Glaciers Rapidly Melt
Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory / GIF via Discover Magazine
Alaskan glaciers have lost 75 billion metric tons of ice every year from 1994 through 2013, The Washington Post′s Chris Mooney reported from the study, which was recently accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. Mooney also reported that the Columbia Glacier (see GIF above) alone has been sending 4 billion metric tons of water into the oceans every year.
Alaska's melting glaciers are "punching far above their weight" when it comes to contributing to sea level rise, CBS News's Michael Casey pointed out, referring to how Alaska only holds one percent of the Earth's glacial ice volume, with most of the Earth's ice found in Antarctica and Greenland's ice sheets.
But as the authors of the new study explained, “Despite Greenland’s ice covered area being 20 times greater than that of Alaska, losses in Alaska were fully one third of the total loss from the ice sheet during 2005-2010.”
For the study, a University of Alaska Fairbanks and U.S. Geological Survey research team analyzed surveys of 116 glaciers in the Alaska region across 19 years to estimate ice loss from melting and iceberg calving, according to a news release.
“Thinking about the future, it means that rates of loss from Alaska are unlikely to decline, since surface melt is the predominant driver, and summer temperatures are expected to continue to increase," said Chris Larsen, a research associate professor with the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and lead author of the study.
"There is a lot of momentum in the system, and Alaska will continue to be a major driver of global sea level change in upcoming decades,” he added.
— Am Geophysical Union (@theAGU) June 17, 2015
Not only are Alaska's glaciers melting, the northernmost U.S. state experienced record heat at the end of May where parts of Alaska recorded temperatures higher than in Arizona.
Unseasonably high temperatures, unpredictable winds and low humidity have been the perfect storm for wildfires to break out in the state, which recorded its warmest May ever. Some of the major blazes have threatened hundreds of homes and forced numerous evacuations, the Associated Press reported. As of Thursday morning, a total of 56 fires were actively burning around the state.
— Alaska Dispatch News (@adndotcom) June 15, 2015
"It's in the 80s right now, and we usually don't get that kind of weather," Casey Cook, the emergency manager for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, told the news organization. "So all those combine to make it a very heavy fire fuel area."
— Alaska Dispatch News (@adndotcom) June 15, 2015
The above average temperatures this spring are a continuation of an incredibly mild winter with record low snowfall forcing the Iditarod dog sled race in Anchorage to move north 300 miles to Fairbanks. Additionally, a ski resort outside of Juneau had to close because of low snowfall and warm temperatures that inhibited snow-making.
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Earth had its second-warmest year on record in 2020, just 0.02 degrees Celsius (0.04°F) behind the record set in 2016, and 0.98 degrees Celsius (1.76°F) above the 20th-century average, NOAA reported January 14.
Figure 1. Departure of temperature from average for 2020, the second-warmest year the globe has seen since record-keeping began in 1880, according to NOAA. Record-high annual temperatures over land and ocean surfaces were measured across parts of Europe, Asia, southern North America, South America, and across parts of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans. No land or ocean areas were record cold for the year. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information
Figure 2. Total ocean heat content (OHC) in the top 2000 meters from 1958-2020. Cheng et al., Upper Ocean Temperatures Hit Record High in 2020, Advances in Atmospheric Sciences
Figure 3. Departure of sea surface temperature from average in the benchmark Niño 3.4 region of the eastern tropical Pacific (5°N-5°S, 170°W-120°W). Sea surface temperature were approximately one degree Celsius below average over the past month, characteristic of moderate La Niña conditions. Tropical Tidbits
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